Subjects and Aliens symposium, November 2017

One of CASS’s postgraduate members, Emma Bellino, reflects on our recent symposium.

On 28 November 2017, CASS hosted the Subjects and Aliens symposium. The symposium brought together scholars from the Australian National University, the University of Otago, La Trobe University and the University of Wollongong.

Until the middle of the twentieth century, residents of Australia and New Zealand were categorised by law as either ‘British subjects’ or ‘aliens’. Using these categories as a starting point, the Subject and Aliens symposium considered histories of nationality and citizenship in Australia and New Zealand over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It explored the intersection of nationality with gender, race and ethnicity in a range of legal and social contexts.

Emma Bellino, Kate Bagnall, Sophie Couchman, Jane Carey, Kim Rubenstein, Julia Martinez and Angela Wanhalla at the Subjects and Aliens symposium, 28 November 2017

The day began with a keynote paper delivered by Professor Kim Rubenstein, from the ANU, who set the context for the day perfectly. In her paper Kim discussed the Australian Constitution, as well as identifying four aspects of how citizenship is understood and experienced: legal status, rights, political participation and identity. Her paper established the legal context for the rest of the symposium.

The following three sessions, titled ‘Mobility, identity and belonging’, ‘Between subjects and aliens – married women’s nationality’, and ‘Race and aliens in White Australia’ respectively, built upon each other, exploring the status and experiences of subjects and aliens through historical and legal lenses.

The first session, ‘Mobility, identity and belonging’, brought together papers by Kate Bagnall, Jane McCabe and Sophie Couchman. Kate Bagnall examined Chinese naturalisation in Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, discussing the effect of anti-Chinese laws on mobile Chinese Australians. Jane McCabe examined the connections between appearance and acceptance in New Zealand in the 1920s through a discussion of the migration and settlement experiences of children from Kalimpong in India. Sophie Couchman continued along the theme of appearance, discussing why some Chinese Australian men were accepted for military service during World War I while others were rejected.

The second session, ‘Between subjects and aliens – married women’s nationality’, saw papers by Emma Bellino and Angela Wanhalla. Emma Bellino discussed Section 18A, an amendment to Australian marital denaturalisation laws in the early twentieth century, arguing that it was highly significant for maritally denaturalised women. Angela Wanhalla discussed marital naturalisation through examining the experiences of interracial and transnational couples during the Pacific War.

The final session, ‘Race and aliens in White Australia’, brought together papers from Peter Prince and Julia Martinez. Peter Prince examined the misapplication of the term ‘alien’ in Australia in the early twentieth century by re-examining the pivotal Robtelmes vs Brenan High Court case. Julia Martinez discussed the movements and experiences of Japanese women engaged in prostitution in Australia between 1914 and 1924, traced through their alien registration documents.

Deep in discussion during afternoon tea, 28 November 2017

Thank you to Dr Kate Bagnall and Lauren Samuelsson who organised this fantastic symposium and to the Feminist Research Network (FRN) at UOW who sponsored the food for the event.

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